Keeping Eyes on Track for a Video Game Future

By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)

Tobii's PCEye in action.
Tobii’s PCEye in action.

In an age where motion-tracking is becoming all the rage, only Microsoft knew how to make the idea work right. They made it nearly hands-free. With the Kinect. players can run on the spot in order to move faster than a speeding bullet or leap tall buildings in a single bound within a virtual world. With Tobii introducing a prototype of an eye-tracking sensor at CES this week with the EyeX, people can start sniping bullets out of thin air or melting weapons with laser beam eyes.

This technology to track eye movement may well be the next evolution to bring virtual reality home to the video-gamer. No date has been announced yet, but when this device is ready, it should be cheaper than the company’s main product, the PCEye that starts at $2k (on Amazon).

Danish gaming manufacturer SteelSeries is helping to make an affordable version that can detect what a person’s eyes is really ogling at on a video screen — female avatars may want to start covering up. Or with games like Duke Nuke’em or Grand Theft Auto, they just may become a little more difficult with all those distractions slowing the player down.

First person shooters and games using this perspective will benefit more with this new technology due to be unveiled soon. Racing games and other training simulators can work to provide an additional awareness to the objects in the environment. That way, pilots know when they have strayed away from the beaten path. Players might be able to learn how to fly like a superhero. Integrating the Kinect with the EyeX will eventually have to happen should the product become popular. The only obstacle is that if the camera’s resolution will be improved so it can see what the player’s eyes are doing from a seven-foot distance, the ideal length the player should be in front the Kinect sensors. The EyeX may require gamers to be closer, like 18 inches.

As for other obstacles, not every game will benefit from this latest technology to come. In essence, catching what the eye is looking at replaces the typical mouse pointer.

Tobii's Asteroids won't be in an arcade near you, but at CES '14, it may be a hit.
Tobii’s Asteroids won’t be in an arcade near you, but at special trade shows, it may be a hit.

Tobii’s new goal is to make waves in the video game community. But if their device gets accepted in the mainstream world, the computer mouse may become passé. This company developed the PCEye that only Windows 8.1 users can use to further enhance their productivity. Its meant to be used by people who have suffered spinal cord injury, so mainstream use was not on their mind at the time.

With both the PCEye and EyeX device, any application that normally uses a mouse can get a motion-tracking upgrade. If users can imagine blinking their left eye to open an application or keeping both eyes trained at an icon to shift it across the screen, then the versatility will be phenomenal. But for the real product, the user’s actions depend on the area of the screen where the eye pupils fixes its gaze upon. When reading a document on the screen, the computer can flip to the next page or begin scrolling automatically when the motion sensors detect the eye is at the bottom of the page. The first generation of these devices did not get much fanfare or even notice in the business world. As a medical device assisting the impaired, this device is invaluable.

The EyeX, a second generation device targeted for video gamers, will have to integrate with Playstations, Xboxes, Android devices, PCs and Macs if it’s going to get any attention. The use of this technology may have users develop a Spock complex, and its integration may take a while to get used to. In terms of virtual world applications, especially when coupled with virtual head-wear like the Oculus Rift, its potential to integrate a user to an environment will make for a giant step in how virtual worlds will get rendered next.

Players who lose themselves in applications for hours on end might not have a sense of time passing. To realize that a day has gone, the computer will have to multitask by not only tracking how the user is perceiving the world within but also by taking into account what time it is so that sunrises can be made. The virtual world within has to tell the user that night has fallen, and that means some added work by the graphics processor to start dimming the lights.

Tobii's PCEye Go with a Mac? Not yet; It's a PC Product for now.
Tobii’s PCEye Go with a Mac? Not yet; It’s a PC Product for now.

Tobii should not sell themselves short in where this technology can go. Developers will have a lot on their plate with motion-tracking, surround sound and eye-tracking sensors being offered to gamers. Some folks like to become truly immersed with their gaming environment and eventually that will pave way to creating fully realistic virtual worlds. Creating a “Matrix” algorithm to integrate all these new sensor technologies may well be the next step.

According to Gizmag’s report, developers kits are available at a promotional price of $95 until the end of January, and it will jump to $195 thereafter. Game developers may well have to start patching some classic games if the idea of eye tracking takes off. But as for what’s available now, the only game reported to support this functionality is with the classic arcade console game, Asteroids.

More details should come when the Consumer Electronics Show ’14 gets into full swing in Las Vegas and the presentations are out.

Author: Ed Sum

I'm a freelance videographer and entertainment journalist (Absolute Underground Magazine, Two Hungry Blokes, and Otaku no Culture) with a wide range of interests. From archaeology to popular culture to paranormal studies, there's no stone unturned. Digging for the past and embracing "The Future" is my mantra.

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